Chaos in KC Over Bizarre Bergner Dismissal

Something strange is going on with the Kansas City Smoke.  With a month left to go in the season, the Smoke decided to fire head coach Randy Bergner… but they’re letting him remain behind the bench until the end of the season.  The revelation left the front office struggling to explain and the players confused and angry.

“It’s a weird situation here,” said Smoke D Gary Hermine.  “That’s all I can say about it.”

Randy Bergner

It’s no great surprise that the Smoke would dismiss Bergner.  The organization spent a good deal of money adding scorers in the offseason, and expected to have a shot at playoff contention.  The Smoke’s high-powered offense excited the fans, and the team got off to a decent start.  But their poor defense and mediocre goaltending quickly swamped the scoring, and Kansas City was clearly out of the race by the All-Star break.  Bergner’s 71-156-13 record in three-plus seasons suggest that the firing wasn’t unwarranted.  But dismissing him with just a few weeks left, and then leaving him to finish out the year, is a bizarre move that begs for an explanation.

As best as anyone can piece it together, the story went like this: After Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Boston, Smoke GM Garth Melvin came into Bergner’s office to tell him that the team would not be renewing his contract at the end of the season.  Melvin then offered Bergner the choice to leave now or remain head coach for the rest of the season.  Bergner opted for the latter.

The coach then spoke to reporters at his usual post-game press conference.  After fielding a few questions, Bergner tossed out a casual aside: “By the way, I just got pre-sacked.  They’re dumping me at the end of the year, but they let me stick around so I can have fun with you guys for a while longer.”

At first, the reporters assumed that the quick-witted Bergner was joking.  Once they realized he was serious, they pelted him with follow-up questions.

“Why would they do this now?” a reporter asked.

“No idea,” Bergner replied.  “Maybe they thought I’d rather spend the next month golfing?  But nah, I can do plenty of that this summer.”

“How does it feel to be… um, sort-of fired?” asked another newsman.

“Oh no, I’m definitely fired,” said the coach.  “Just not yet.  The Grim Reaper sent me a Zoom invite for next month, basically.  I’ve got it on my calendar.”

The reporters then poured into the locker room to ask the players about the news.  The players, who had not been informed of what happened, reacted with predictable confusion.

“I feel bad about that,” Bergner said later.  “I should have said something to them first.  But I was on my way to talk to reporters anyway, so…”

The reporters then tracked down Melvin, who asked, “Who told you that?”  When the reporters said it was Bergner, the GM seemed irritated with the coach.

Garth Melvin

“That was a private conversation,” Melvin snapped.  “I don’t know why he went blabbing about it to reporters.  But I guess that’s to be expected, since you’re his biggest fans.”  (Bergner denied that Melvin asked him to keep the news private.)

Needless to say, this response went over poorly, both with the reporters and in the locker room.  Once the players got over the initial confused and realized what had happened, they lined up behind Bergner.

“This is a crappy way to treat a good coach,” said C Noel Picard.  “Coach Bergner’s worked hard and he’s treated us well, and he deserves better than getting stabbed in the back.”

“When I was with Dakota, a lot of not-great stuff went on,” said LW Ryan Airston.  “But they never would have done something like this.  Announcing that you’re going to fire him, and then just leaving him out there for a month… who does something like that?”

Now on the defensive, Melvin attempted to claim that he made the move as a favor to Bergner.  “With expansion coming, there are going to be jobs out there,” said the GM.  “We wanted to let Randy know the situation so, if one of the new teams comes calling, he has an opportunity to take it.  We wanted to do right by him.”

“Um, thanks?” replied Bergner.  “I mean, I’m pretty sure Baltimore and Salt Lake will wait until the end of the season to fill out their coaching staffs.”

After taking a pasting in the press for several days, Melvin finally apologized on Saturday.  “I understand now that I made a mistake,” said the Smoke GM.  “Randy Bergner has been an important part of this franchise since the beginning, and this was the wrong way to handle the end of his time here.  He deserved better, and our players deserved better.”

One question remains: Why did Bergner opt to stick around, rather than leave immediately and get paid not to coach for the final month?

“I like coaching,” said Bergner.  “I like these guys.  And I didn’t have anything else planned, so I figured: why not stick it out?  It’s kind of awkward now, but I can live with awkward.”

Smoke’s “Black Tie BBQ” Ends Badly

Can barbecue be fine dining?  The Kansas City Smoke decided to find out this week.  The team has long celebrated the city’s barbecue heritage, from their mascot Pitmaster Pete to the youth hockey teams they’ve dressed in the logos of some of the city’s most venerable ‘cue joints.  And when the Smoke held a black-tie charitable fundraiser on Friday, team president Eddie Whitmore had an idea to try to turn barbecue into haute cuisine.

“Historically, barbecue is poor people, working man food,” said Whitmore.  “It’s humble, it’s sloppy, it’s delicious.  No one’s going to confuse it for fancy.  But I started thinking: great ‘cue is an art form.  So why couldn’t you turn it into a five-star meal?”

With that in mind, Whitmore invited some of Kansas City’s brightest young chefs to reimagine barbecue as fine-dining dishes, and then serve those dishes at the fundraiser.  In many ways, the effort was a success; the guests raved about the intricate and innovative dishes. One chef whipped up a Wellington with beef brisket in the middle.  Another made a cassoulet with pulled-pork confit.  And that KC staple, burnt ends, was converted into a variety of unusual dishes, from a multi-layered savory napoleon to sushi rolls.

However, Whitmore’s plan ran into a critical hitch in the form of the players, who didn’t exactly conduct themselves appropriately for a black-tie event.

“It turns out that barbecue can be black-tie food,” said Smoke coach Randy Bergner.  “Unfortunately, some of our players don’t have black-tie manners.  We’re going to have to send these guys to finishing school.”

Bastien Chouinard

According to eyewitnesses, the trouble began when a fan asked D Bastien Chouinard for an autograph.  Chouinard was happy to oblige, but he first needed to wipe off his greasy fingers.  Lacking a napkin, he instead wiped his hands on the shirtfront of teammate Mike Rivera.  Rivera looked down, irked, then decided to get even by wiping his hands on Chouinard’s tuxedo jacket.  Unsurprisingly, things escalated from there.  It did not turn into an all-out food fight, but when G Rocky Goldmire dumped a gravy boat filled with barbecue sauce over Chouinard’s head, management quickly escorted the players out of the room.

“And it was just getting good,” Goldmire lamented.  “At my house during the holidays, it’s not really a party until someone gets the gravy boat dumped over his head.  Usually me.”

Ds Leonard Wright and Terry Hendricks, meanwhile, did not engage in any of the food-throwing shenanigans.  However, they reportedly spent much of the evening chugging craft beers and engaging in a belching contest.  According to the fans they recruited to serve as judges, Wright was deemed the winner, while decorum and proper behavior were the unquestioned losers.

“I don’t know why Coach was complaining,” said Wright.  “We all had fun, and I ended the night with my pants on, which isn’t usually the case when I go to one of these things.”

In spite of (or because of?) the players behaving badly, the event raised over $65,000 for the Assistance League of Kansas City, which provides a variety of programs and services for people in need.  Whitmore was delighted with the creative cuisine, and judged the event to be a success.

“We raised a lot of money for a good cause and our fans had a good time, and that’s what really matters,” Whitmore said.  “I can’t wait to do this again next year.  Maybe next time we won’t invite the players.  I’m still thinking that part over.”

Smoke Smack Shockers, Score Six-Pack in First

After getting off to a solid start in the first two weeks, the Saskatchewan Shockers faced an early test in Sunday’s match against the Kansas City Smoke.  With a win, the Shockers would find themselves tied for first place in the highly competitive West.  Although it’s still early in the season, Saskatchewan had a chance to make a statement in their quest for their first-ever playoff berth.  The game was on home ice at Potash Arena; though Kansas City has shown excellent offensive firepower in the early going, they’re struggled on defense and in net.  The Shockers headed into game confident of victory.

Bengt Frederiksson

They were in for a rude awakening, in the form of a nightmare first period that left them shell-shocked.  The Smoke scored virtually at will, lighting the lamp over and over.  RW Bengt Frederiksson recorded a hat trick – before the first intermission.  By the time it was done, Saskatchewan goalie Zeke Zagurski was headed for an early shower, and Kansas City held a 6-1 lead on the way to an 8-2 rout.

“That was an absolute beatdown, a complete embarrassment,” said Shockers coach Morris Thompson.  “[The Smoke] absolutely ran us out of our own building.”

Curiously, Saskatchewan seemed to be getting the better end of play in the early going.  Through the first six minutes, they held a significant edge in time of possession and lead in shot attempts 10-5.  Meanwhile, Frederiksson seemed to be virtually a one-man offense for the visiting team; of KC’s first five shot attempts, he had four of them.

He nearly scored in the first minute of the team, only to be robbed by a sprawling save from Zagurski.  Then, after the Smoke withstood a minute-plus of zone time from the Shockers, LW Ryan Airston faked a shot and fired a slap-pass to Frederiksson, who had a layup into a yawning net to put the visiting team on the board.  Another sustained Saskatchewan push came up empty, and Frederiksson picked off a lazy pass and took off on a breakaway, finishing with a deke that froze Zagurski and left the top shelf open for another goal.  The stunned Shockers found themselves in a 2-0 hole.

A slashing penalty on Shockers C Lars Karlsson allowed Kansas City to tilt the ice further.  Smoke D Alex Angelos fired a shot through traffic in the waning moments of the power play to push the lead to three.  Less than a minute later, LW Aaron Knorr defected a shot between Zagurski’s legs to make it 4-0.

At that point, Saskatchewan made a belated pushback.  Just 23 seconds after Knorr’s tally, LW Troy Chamberlain went coast-to-coast on a breakway and finally broke the shutout.  Over the next two and a half minutes, the Shockers controlled the puck and continued firing wildly at the net, but most of the shots either went wide or were blocked.  After that rally fizzled, Smoke D Leonard Wright beat Zagurski on the short side to restore their four-goal edge.

About a minute later, Saskatchewan crashed the net and got a couple good shots from point-blank range, but D Klaus Eberhardt got overzealous in chasing a rebound and wound up in the box for cross-checking.  On the ensuing power play, Frederiksson picked off a failed clear attempt and ripped a slapshot past Zagurski on the short side to complete his hat trick and make it a 6-1 game.  The fans in attendance weren’t about to toss their hats in celebration of the feat, so the Smoke flung their helmets on the ice.

After the game, KC coach Randy Bergner lauded his team’s explosive offense.  “This team is red-hot!” said Bergner.  “You never know when we’re going to blow up and score in bunches like that.  It reminds me of the old ’77 Trans Am I drove as a teenager.  The brakes might be a little iffy, but stomp on the go pedal and you better hang on, ‘cause you’re in for a wild ride!”

Thompson also credited the Kansas City offense, but criticized his team’s execution.  “You’re not going to beat Kansas City by trading shots with them,” said the Shockers coach.  “They got ahead early, and then we panicked and it turned into a track meet.  We’ve got to play smarter and keep our heads in those situations, and not try to play firewagon hockey.  That’s not our game.”

Some observers noted that Zagurski looked off balance for much of his short stay in net and expressed concern that he might have been dealing with an undisclosed injury.  The netminder shot down those rumors, however.  “Nope, I just sucked today,” Zagurski explained.  “I know I looked like I was drunk out there, but I wasn’t.  Believe me, I wish I was.”

Smoke Penalized for Mid-Game Ribs

Kansas City is a barbecue town.  They’re famous for, and justifiably proud of, their love of slow-smoked meat.  The Kansas City Smoke took its name in honor of the city’s ‘cue heritage, and they refer back to it at every opportunity.  Several of the city’s best-known barbecue joints operation concession stands at Heartland Telecom Center.  They even had youth hockey players take the ice dressed up in the colors of local institutions Arthur Bryant’s and Gates B-B-Q to “decide” which reigned supreme.

Up until this point, the Smoke’s ‘cue connections have been a good thing for the team.  This week, however, the team’s fondness for KC’s favorite food led to trouble, as the team was penalized for snacking on ribs instead of taking the ice.

The incident occurred in the third period of Sunday’s game against the Michigan Gray Wolves.  The Smoke recently added half-racks of ribs to their concessions offerings, and team president Eddie Whitmore wanted to make fans aware of the new option.

Pitmaster Pete

In order to make a splash, the team armed their mascot Pitmaster Pete with a vending tray full of single ribs, and turned him loose during a stoppage in play to hand out free samples in Section 101, near the Smoke bench.

The idea was a hit, as fans clamored to get their hands on a rib.  The promotion was so popular, in fact, that the fans jammed the aisle, briefly leading Pete to fear for his life.

But the real trouble began when some of the Smoke players noticed the commotion going on behind them, and discovered the rib giveaway taking place.  A visibly annoyed D T.K. O’Neill began banging on the glass and shouting at the mascot, “Yo, bring those ribs over here!  We want a taste!”

“The fans were way more excited about those ribs than anything that was happening on the ice,” noted O’Neill after the game.  “On the one hand, that’s a little hurtful.  On the other hand, I totally get it.  Because who doesn’t love ribs?!”

With the help of his handlers, Pete wriggled free of the mob of fans and made his way down toward the bench.  Several players, including O’Neill, held out their hands and demanded ribs.  The mascot unstrapped the vending tray from his neck and passed it over the glass, where the players gratefully grabbed it and began chowing down.

Only one problem: the stoppage was over, and the Smoke were expected to send players over the boards to take the faceoff, but they were otherwise occupied.  Referee Darren St. James skated over and asked coach Randy Bergner to put his team on the ice.  Bergner ignored him, as did the rest of the team.

After asking repeatedly and receiving no cooperation, a frustrated St. James finally whistled Kansas City for a delay of game penalty.

“There’s a time and a place for eating, and it’s after the game is over,” noted St. James.  “It’s my duty to keep things moving along.  And besides, they didn’t offer to share.”

Bergner designated O’Neill to serve the penalty.  He complied, albeit reluctantly.  When he arrived at the penalty box, the first thing he requested was a towel to wipe the barbecue sauce off of his hands.

After the game, a 5-4 Smoke win, O’Neill indicated that he had no regrets.  “Look, I love this game,” he told reporters.  “But I really love ribs, and it’s not fair to make me choose between the two.”

Whitmore seemed pleased with the outcome.  “We knew that the ribs were going to be a hit, but I didn’t think that they would be so popular that even the players would demand a taste,” the president said.  “I’m just glad that Pete made it through all right, and that we still won the game.”

Whitmore said he would ensure that going forward, ribs would be included in the team’s postgame spread.  “In-game snacks are a no-no, but I want to make sure they get their fix.”

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